A Blessing All the Way Around

Well, it’s been awhile since I have made a post, so I figured it was time. A lot has happened in the last few months. First off, I finished my second year at Troy, which was definitely bittersweet. Then, in the beginning of August, I moved to Auburn and began my degree in Agricultural Communications.

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Comer Hall, built in 1910, houses the College of Agriculture at Auburn University. There are currently 1,430 students enrolled as AG majors at Auburn, which is a record for the college.

 

Moving to Auburn has certainly changed my life in more ways than one. I left a place where I had been surrounded by family my entire life, so I figured it would be difficult to adjust living away from home. I was excited for the adventure nonetheless. Little did I know I would become a part of another family so quickly. A family not connected through blood, but a spirit, the Auburn Spirit. Now Auburn is just as much of a home as Ramer is. Both will always be.

As far as classes are going, it’s the same old story. There is the glorious syllabus day, then material and then a test. However, it’s truly an awesome feeling to be sitting in a classroom learning how to better communicate agriculture to others, and learning how to plant vegetables. Some would say it’s senseless to think like this, but I would have to say it’s a blessing all the way around. Because, those classes aren’t only about planting vegetables and talking about cows, they are about preparing. Preparing for our future. This future holds more mouths to feed and a constant battle for advocates to promote the importance agriculture has to our existence.

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“Tigertron,” otherwise known as the largest video-scoreboard in college football, made its debut during Auburn’s first home game on Sept. 12.

Nearly everyday, there is a new finding to witch fingers are pointed at the world’s largest industry to prove that parts of it are “bad.” From antibiotics in meat to genetically modified corn, we’ve heard it all. I feel that God has meticulously placed each person in the College of AG, so they can prove these findings incorrect. We will not give up; we simply have to take it one step at the time.

As I sit among my peers, I know without a doubt, the future of the agricultural industry is bright.

War Eagle, Hey…

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MOOOOOOOvin’ on up!

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One of my grandfather’s calves grazing in the pasture.

This week I decided to talk about Alabama’s beef industry, which is the second largest animal industry in the state just behind poultry.

The beef industry accounts for thousands of jobs and represents $2.5 billion. There are roughly 1.2 million head of beef cattle across Alabama. There is nearly 90 million nationally. Each of Alabama’s 67 counties is involved, in some way, in cattle farming or processing.

A large number of people may think beef is not healthy. According to Facts About Beef, beef is actually a very healthy food, in moderation of course as in nearly every other food. There are many diets that are healthy, which include beef. The DASH diet includes about 1.4 ounces of red meat a day. It is estimated Americans eat about 2.5 pounces of beef daily.

One of my grandfathers, Floyd Glenn Hicks, raises about 60 head of cattle. He has been a part of the industry for nearly 80 years, and he is still going strong at the impressive age of ninety. He said that one of the best parts of his day is waking up and going to check on all of his cows. He enjoys being able to get out of the house and ride in one of his three red “pick-ups,” as he refers to them. The cows know the sound of his truck, so they will come right up to it. They know when the truck is there, it is feeding time!

Caring for cows is not exactly an easy task. During the summer, you must grow hay so the cows will have something to eat during winter as the grass dies away. They also have to be sprayed for lice and other parasites.

I have really enjoyed growing up around the cows, and being able to watch and learn the different processes of life. Small family-owned farms are great places for students, researchers or anyone that wants to learn a thing or two about agriculture.

For more Alabama Beef facts and information, please visit Alabama Cattlemen’s Association’s website.

Cheep, Hop, POP!

Balloons, baby chickens and an Easter egg hunt are great ways for children from the Ramer/Grady community to learn about Jesus Christ, and what it takes to be a poultry farmer.

Students listen and learn from "The Balloon Man" at Brown Farms.

Students listen and learn from “The Balloon Man” at Brown Farms.

On April 2, nearly seventy elementary students, from South Montgomery County Academy, ventured to Brown Farms on an all-day field trip. Brown Farms is located in Ramer, Alabama, which is also my hometown. The farm is owned and operated, by Jeremy and Lindsey Brown along with their two children, Ansley (6) and Lydia Grace (3). I am extremely proud to claim them as part of my family. Together, they have six chicken houses and trucking company that transports chicken litter to area farmers and land owners.

The day started off with a welcome from Lindsey and her friend, Carlos the Puppet. The Easter Bunny also had enough time to make an appearance. After the introduction, Greg Taunton, also known as “The Balloon Man,” gave an inspirational balloon show about Jesus Christ and how He saved us all from sin while using his balloon to tell the story. He pumped a giant balloon full of air, worked his way inside and then knelt down making the balloon pop, displaying how Jesus can take our sins away. Once his show was over he fulfilled the request of every child that was in attendance by making them all a “one of a kind” balloon of their choice.

Greg Taunton shown here climbing into a giant balloon.

Greg Taunton shown here climbing into a giant balloon.

 

Later that day, students received a tour of the chicken houses, given by Jeremy. They were not only amazed at how large the houses were, but also the amount of chickens each house contains, which is around 28,000. They were also able to see a few tractors and trucks, here and there.

Brown Farms owner, Jeremy Brown, speaking to a group of students about poultry farming.

Brown Farms owner, Jeremy Brown, speaking to a group of students about poultry farming.

Then it was time for the egg hunt. Many of the students scrambled to find as many eggs as they could get their hands on. I feel quite sure that there was not a single egg left in the yard.

All of the kids received bags filled with gifts from the Alabama Farmers Federation, which included a coloring book, crayons made from soybeans and interesting AG facts on bookmarks. It was a truly great day for this event. The weather was perfect, and as many would say, “You could not have paid for a better day.”

Until next time…

Wild Game What?

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Hundreds of community members attended South Montgomery County Academy’s annual Wild Game Supper on March 14.

Every year my high school hosts an event around the beginning of turkey hunting season to raise money for the school. It is called, The Wild Game Supper, and it is exactly what it is called. A huge line of wild game, there is also a few “regular” foods, prepared and ready to eat. This event has become a major fundraiser for South Montgomery County Academy. More than $30,000 was raised this year, which was the most successful Wild Game Supper the school has ever had. All of the money raised goes directly toward educating the children at the school, from the surrounding area.

There was quail, alligator, deer, turkey, squirrel, wild rabbit, catfish, duck and so much more….. One of my personal favorite foods, that was also included in the line up, was cheese grits. I eat wild game, but cheese grits holds a truly special place in my heart. It is one of the few foods that is hard to “mess up.” If none of the food interests you, there are plenty of other ways to support the school through this event.

In addition to the food, there was also a silent auction. There were more than four hundred items that people could bid on. There were several items that were handmade, including incredible cedar furniture and jewelry. Although, several bidding wars occurred, it was all in good fun.

Along with the auction, the school had a $5,000 money draw down and a turkey rodeo. The turkey rodeo was a first and ended up being a great success with many participants. Teams of two people per team went out on a hunt and whichever obtained the best bird, won a pair of shotguns. There were a large number of tickets sold for the money draw down. Each ticket held ten spots that each cost $10.CMH_7746psd

This event is a great way for the members of the community to come together to help out the small, private school located only just a few miles from where I live. The school hopes that the next year’s Wild Game Supper will be even more successful than this year.

Biscuits with a Side of Quail Hunting

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Andalusia attorney, Mike Jones, taking a shot at one of the many quail during the hunt.

My post this week will be about a trip we made to Florala, Alabama, to shoot some photos at the Wildcat Creek Hunting Lodge. The lodge is owned and operated by Al Cravey, along with fellow hunter and good friend, Cecil Ammons. He started this business in 1999 and wanted to be able to provide great experiences for every customer that ventured there. One of the main attractions to the lodge is the superb quail hunting. The land in which the lodge stands on is more than perfect for the sport. An attorney from Andalusia, Mike Jones, was also there hunting while we were shooting photos.

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Cecil Ammons and Mike Jones watching the dogs every move until they find a covey of quail.

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A closeup shot of a Bobwhite quail.

Cravey prepared for the hunt by placing a covey of quail into a pile of brush, so the dogs could sniff out them and someone would be able to take a shot. All three of the men, even Mrs. Davis and I, enjoyed watching the dogs try to find were the quail were. The dogs would run, jump and bark until they found every last quail.

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Owner of Wildcat Creek Hunting Lodge, Al Cravey, is preparing a covey of quail for the dogs to sniff out.

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Good friends, Cecil and Al, standing on the porch of the Wiley House, which is the name of the hunting lodge. The Wiley House is estimated to have been built around 1922.

After the hunt, we enjoyed a delicious steak and homemade buttermilk biscuits made by Cravey. Those were the best biscuits I have ever had in my entire life! This particular adventure was exciting, because one of my photos was chosen to be the cover photo for the January 2015 issue of Neighbors. I felt truly humbled for one of them to have been chosen. The whole day was definitely a memorable, but possibly one of my favorite parts was the delicious meal.

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Al Cravey with one of his extremely well trained hunting dogs and one of the several prizes from the day.

A Hidden Gem in Alabama

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Rock Bridge Canyon Park Director, Mike Franklin on his horse, just in front of one of the parks natural waterfalls.

Waterfalls, ice and horses are just a few of the things that I photographed on my next adventure with ALFA and their Neighbors magazine. This was an extremely cold day in January 2014, just after “Snowmageddon.” We left very early for our destination, Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park, which is in Hodges, Alabama. Hodges is located in northwest Alabama in Franklin County.

Rock Bridge Canyon is an equestrian and hiking park, featuring several natural waterfalls and over 20 miles of hiking trails for humans and horses. The park also has a natural rock bridge which is one-hundred feet high and eighty-two feet long. You can even camp in the park with an RV or by just using a tent!

When we arrived, we were greeted with warm welcomes by the park administrators and also the Saddle Club. The Saddle Club is a group of horseback riders that frequently visit the park to ride the trails and just have fun. We were there to shoot photographs of them riding through the park. The park itself is absolutely amazing. There are thousands of trees and the waterfalls are breath taking. We followed the riders down to the main waterfall to get a shot of Mike Franklin on his horse for a possible cover photo. Mike is the park director of Rock Bridge Canyon and also the police chief of Hodges. Most of the water had been frozen during the ice storm, so it was very cold.

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A group of riders enjoying the trails through the park.

I was able to get a tour of the park by walking a few of the trails while taking photos of the horseback riders and the scenery. At one point, we were standing under the rock bridge, which seemed much larger than the numbers I previously provided. It was dark, massive, and astounding all at the same time. We wrapped up at the park and afterwards, we had a great lunch at small café, just down the road from the park.

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Icicles hanging off a ledge, slowly melting away after the ice storm.

I had never heard of Hodges before this trip, much less of Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park. Both are definitely hidden gems in northwest Alabama that I hope I can visit soon again.

To read the article from Neighbors about Rock Bridge Canyon, please click here.

Alabama Adventures in Progress

Over the last year, I have had many different adventures dealing with the Alabama Farmers Federation and their monthly publication, Neighbors. Since then, I have become very good friends with Debra Davis, the Publications Director of the Federation. In my next few blog posts, I will be describing a few of the adventures I have had.

My first trip with Mrs. Davis consisted of shooting photographs of former Young Farmers Chairman, Allie Corcoran and also former Women’s Leadership Committee Chairman, Sharon Byrd. Our day started bright and early as we traveled to Eufaula, Alabama, to Backyard Orchards. Backyard Orchards is a fruit and vegetable farm run by Allie and her sister, Cassie Young. They were in the process of building a barn to house their new store/restaurant and office. It was a cold day in December. There were strawberries growing for the summer and the peach tree orchard was being tended to. Allie gave us a tour of the farm as we were looking for the best place to take a photo. We finally decided that her leaning on an old tractor was perfect!

After her photo was taken, we met with her sister and her two children, Gardner and Sterling, to get a group photo of all four of them in one of the families’ cotton fields. I also shot several photos around the farm of a few plants and animals. We then found our way to a local barbecue restaurant, which had some of the best I have ever eaten. Our goodbyes were shared and we then left for Ariton, Alabama, which is located just south of Troy, to meet Mrs. Byrd.

When we arrived to the Byrd residence, we were greeted with warm welcomes by, not only Mrs. Byrd, but also her extremely friendly dogs. We eventually proceeded to the porch swing, where I shot a photo of her. Now, we only needed one more photo to finish out our day. We needed a photo of the Byrds and their two sons. Mrs. Davis got a great shot of Mrs. Byrd, her husband, Jerry, and their sons, Brian and Steven.

The day was absolutely fantastic, and needless to say that I really did enjoy it. More adventures to come!

For more agriculture blogs to view, please click here or here.

“Look at All Those Chickens”

Several of the thousands of baby chickens at the farm.

Several of the thousands of baby chickens at the farm.

There are many animal industries across Alabama, but the poultry industry brings more revenue than any other in the state. Alabama poultry provides more than 85,000 jobs and is responsible for over sixty-five percent of farming revenues for the state. That is more than fifteen billion dollars. Alabama is also one of the top poultry producers in the country. An average adult can eat around seventy-five pounds of poultry each year, and the consumption of chickens continues to grow,

Being a farmer is not just a “nine to five” job. Being a farmer is your life. Owning a farm requires a person that is dedicated to the business and to put one-hundred percent effort into it. My family owns and operates a poultry farm and there is constant work to be done. There are six chicken houses on the farm, with each holding around 40,000 birds.

Family owned farms are great in many aspects. One reason is that the entire family can participate and help with the farm. Another is children can learn the responsibilities of how important it is to care for living animals and also watch them grow and mature. Baby chickens, otherwise known as bitties, arrive to farms sometimes just hours old. They stay in the houses for six to seven weeks and then are ready to collect, so there are plenty of educational experiences to be had.

At the farm, several days ago, my little cousin Lydia Grace, found a black baby chick. A new shipment of chickens had just arrived. Black bitties are considered “good luck” in the chicken farming business, and we were able to find a total of five of them in one house! The newly hatched chicks will sometimes follow a person that is walking around inside the house, because they think that the person is their mother. Lydia Grace probably had at least a hundred bitties following her around at any given moment, which she thought very unamusing and replied by saying, “I’m not your mother!,” to the chickens. At one time, she started singing the famed song “Let it Go,” from the Disney movie Frozen.

Lydia Grace, four, giving one of the five black baby chickens a good look.

Lydia Grace, three, giving one of the five black baby chickens a good look.

Being able to spend time with the family and also playing with the baby chicks is always a good time. But, eventually you must put your boots on and get to work.

Feeding the World

Commissioner John McMillan taking his oath of office at the 2015 Inauguration ceremony.

Commissioner John McMillan taking his oath of office at the 2015 Inauguration ceremony.

The practice of agriculture has been around for thousands of years. Even on American soil, the Indians used to farm the land just as we do today; only we have modern technology to help support our crops and animals. Agriculture can be anything from growing crops, to raising various breeds of animals. It is Alabama’s number one industry, and it provides millions of jobs across the world. So, needless to say that we need agriculture in order to survive.

There are many possible crops that can be grown throughout the country. Some crops that grow well in our area are, corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat, and an extremely large amount of peanuts. The rearing of animals is also a huge portion in the agriculture industry. Alabama’s number one animal industry is the poultry industry. This industry provides more than $15 billion to the state each year. There are also beef, catfish and also a few dairy farms throughout the state.

I have grown up with animals always around my house. There have been cows, dogs, chickens, rabbits, turtles and even a few fish, freshwater and saltwater, just to name a few. Many of my childhood memories, especially from the summers, are of me getting into the truck with my grandfather to go feed his cows. There have been countless trips through the pasture.

Agricultural leaders are just as important as agriculture itself. This past Monday, I had the opportunity to attend the inauguration ceremony, of not only Governor Robert Bentley and Lt. Governor Kay Ivey, but also of the Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries of Alabama, John McMillan. This is the second term McMillan has been elected Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries.

In his speech, Commissioner McMillan discussed the importance of youth and the future, and I agree with him. I believe the future of America is in the hands of its youth and we must educate them to be better leaders for tomorrow.

The inauguration ceremony was followed by a parade with college and high school bands from around the state. Troy’s own Sound of the South marching band was featured in the parade. This was my first time attending a State inauguration ceremony, and it certainly was a memorable one.

Remember Farming Feeds Alabama!

Planting the Seed in Society

Hello world! My name is Caleb Hicks. I’m from the tiny town of Dublin, Alabama, and am truly blessed that I was raised in such a great place. God and family are two very important aspects in my life. I am fortunate enough to live close to most of my family, and that has impacted me in unimaginable ways.

I am currently studying at Troy University and majoring in multimedia journalism. When I first arrived at Troy, I was completely lost as far as a decision on my major. I chose to take a beginning journalism course, during my first semester, and I was hooked.

Journalism is just one of the things that I am truly passionate about. Another is having an agriculture background, from both sides of my family. Agriculture is one of the largest industries in the world. Without it, we would have immense food shortages. As I said before, agriculture runs deep on both sides of my family. Both of my grandfathers were, and still are, heavily involved within the industry. I am also involved with the Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA) in the Young Farmers program.

In this blog I will discuss agriculture in my life and also how it affects the rest of the world, but I will be doing this from a journalistic aspect. I will be posting to this blog at least once a week, so watch out!

I would like for everyone to see that agriculture is an important piece of our society, and how it affects us as a civilization. I hope you enjoy these posts and possibly even learn a thing or two. If you would like to discuss or comment on any of these subjects, please feel free to do so. I look forward to many postings and even some discussions.

Until next time.